I have spent many years watching over my own family’s health and well-being while also promoting the message of good health to the community that surrounds me. With great diligence I have worked to research the local foods community and connect people within that community with local farmers and producers of all things good. In my opinion, it is not only admirable or desirable, but of vital importance to do so. However, at times many of us find ourselves unable, for a variety of reasons, to obtain all of our family’s food locally.
This has been the recent experience for my family as we have relocated to a new region. Our move has forced me to take a deeper look at the broader scope of resources available to most of us, the so-called “Big Box Club Stores” or BBCSs.
Here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley where I now reside we have a variety of farm stands and herd-share programs at our disposal. For much of our family’s food, especially milk, I will not even consider any other source than a good, local raw dairy. I am also happy to purchase most of our fresh vegetables from a farm stand nearby. However, high-quality foods that we need and desire often come with a price tag which may make it unaffordable, or force us to drive a greater distance and pay higher prices than we can afford. And so enters the BBCSs.
I started frequenting BJ’s Wholesale Club in my former town a few years ago. I found several things that were of value to my family, but I still raised most of our own food from our small farmstead or purchased it from neighboring farms and local natural food stores. BJ’s, however, was eye-opening, which prompted me to explore Sam’s Club and later Costco.
I understand the natural disdain that many feel toward these stores. However I have come to view them as a real blessing, for many simply cannot afford and may not have access to high quality, organic, naturally raised, unprocessed foods. And so I have learned to purchase what I can from local farms, but also to enjoy the benefits that some of these other sources provide.
So for milk, eggs and many other foods, farms are my first choice. But here I will share the particular items that I obtain at the club stores for an affordable price and at good quality.
All three club stores offer organic butter and ultra-pasteurized milk (of course I do not recommend UP milk). As of this writing none of them provide full-fat, grass-fed yogurt. However I do purchase organic butter (for cooking and baking) as well as fine cheeses, both domestic and imported. KerryGold butter is available at Costco as is quite a good selection of European cheeses. My husband and I particularly enjoy the imported double cream French brie and domestic organic cheddar cheeses found there, as well as Spanish manchego and French comte, which is actually raw (and incredibly delicious!). I also purchase the organic cheddar slices that Costco offers. BJ’s has its own, non-organic but delicious brand of aged cheddar cheese, and Finlandia brand sliced cheeses. All three offer Kerry Gold Dubliner and Bally Shannon cheeses.
Each of the stores carry lamb at good prices. BJ’s lamb is American at around six dollars a pound, and I seldom purchase it, not knowing how it is raised. However Sam’s Club carries New Zealand grass-fed leg of lamb at only five dollars a pound; Costco has lamb from Australia, which is presumably range-fed, at six dollars a pound.
BJ’s is my preferred source for bacon, where I can purchase Vermont Smoke & Cure, certified humane raised and handled bacon without added nitrates (it does contain celery powder, a source of nitrates of unknown quantity). The maple-brined, cob and maple-smoked twenty-ounce package currently sells for less than eleven dollars a pound, and the low-sodium apple cider-brined is about ten dollars a pound. I find this bacon very tasty and use it sparingly primarily as a flavoring and crunch in salads and in egg dishes, and I even add the fat to salad dressings and mayonnaise.
Chicken is one thing that regularly brings me to Costco, a company which has made a strong effort to help small farmers provide organically raised goods. My Costco sells whole, organic pasture-raised chicken for two dollars fifty a pound. The legs are a great value at two dollars a pound. They also offer this same chicken in thigh and boneless, skinless breast packs. I would rather buy the whole chicken, take the breasts if needed, and roast or otherwise cook the rest and then finish it all off with homemade stock.
Costco is the only of the three stores as of this writing that also offers organically raised ground beef, at five dollars a pound. I can usually purchase ground beef in large quantities at that price from an area farmer, so he is my usual and preferred source. You may be able to do the same with your local farms, but you may need to ask for a price break on quantity, as I did.
VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
Fresh from your own garden or a local farm stand is best, but often we must purchase from the store. I have found that BJ’s and Costco have more organic, fresh produce than does Sam’s Club. They all have organic spring mix, while BJ’s and Costco also carry organic romaine lettuce, carrots, and a few other items. BJ’s has an organic vegetable medley, broccoli florets, corn, peas and kale in the freezer section. Costco has a few choices in the frozen vegetable section, and Sam’s Club almost nothing. Frozen organic berries and cherries are available at BJ’s and Costco. Sam’s Club only carries organic frozen blueberries.
Again, BJ’s wins my loyalty here. They carry a seafood medley containing calamari, mussels, shrimp and scallops for only ten dollars for a one and one-half pound bag. This is one of my favorite reasons to head there, as I use this frequently for delicious, filling chowders and sautés. BJ’s and Costco both have frozen wild-caught flounder, salmon and cod at a reasonable price.
OTHER GROCERY PRODUCTS
There are many high-quality, organic and non-GMO products available at BJ’s, including organic apple cider vinegar at nine dollars per two-pack or three dollars per quart, organic coconut sap sugar, Way Better sweet potato corn chips, and several other snack items.
One of my favorite Costco finds? Their Kirkland brand of organic olive oil is smooth and delicious, and according to testing is one of the rare grocery store brands which is actually 100 percent unadulterated olive oil! At Costco, you will also find California Olive Ranch olive oil, which is one of my favorite, sustainable, off-the-shelf brands.
All three stores carry organic corn chips, coconut oil in large tubs, organic quinoa and brown rice, and organic peanut butter.
Costco also has Ecos brand laundry detergent (two hundred ten ounces for thirteen dollars regular price) as well as Seventh Generation.
VALUE FOR A TYPICAL FAMILY
As you can see, there are many items available which are likely staples in your own household, and many more still that I have not even mentioned here. My family spends from two hundred fifty to three hundred dollars per week (aside from the previously mentioned foods purchased locally). to feed at least eight people daily, with frequent guests. Perhaps you will find these stores valuable for your own family as well, and have enough money left over in your budget to purchase plenty of wonderful foods from your local farmers such as raw milk, grass-fed meats, raw cheeses, and more. Happy shopping!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2016